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Jaguars face challenge


They are facing one of the challenges that will define their season. What the Jaguars do this Sunday may decide where they finish in the AFC South and whether they make the playoffs.

There's more.

Playing in a division that will pit Byron Leftwich against Peyton Manning twice a season, what Leftwich does in these games will go a long way toward defining Leftwich's career, much as Manning's career has been defined by what he has done head-to-head against Tom Brady.

There is more.

A Jaguars defense that wants to be recognized as one of the elite units in the league will be defined by how it performs against the NFL's most vaunted offense.

Still, there is more.

Tackle Mike Pearson is facing the challenge of having to block Dwight Freeney, and Rashean Mathis is facing the challenge of having to cover Marvin Harrison, and Marcus Stroud and the Jaguars defensive line faces the challenge of having to put pressure on Manning.

"A very big challenge," is the way coach Jack Del Rio described this Sunday's game. "A division opponent on the road; a team many feel will be in the Super Bowl."

Simply put, for the Jaguars, the road to the Super Bowl runs through Indianapolis. That's the ultimate challenge.

Del Rio, however, made it all very simple in his press conference on Wednesday. "The bottom line is our football team being able to score more than they do," Del Rio said.

That's the mindset Del Rio is selling this week. He's not challenging his defense to stop Manning. He's not challenging his offense to out-score Manning. He's challenging his team to find a way, any way, to win the game.

"If we hold (Manning) to 24 and get a win, it's great. If we hold him to 24 and lose, it's bad for the defense," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said.

That's the party line, and wherever reporters went in the locker room today, that's what they got. When his players reported to Alltel Stadium today to begin preparations for this Sunday's big game, Del Rio presented the week's gameplan with this simple message: Just win, baby, win.

There is, however, more.

"If we want to be a top five defense, this is our opportunity to showcase our skills," Peterson said.

There is no greater showcase than a game against Manning. He humbles all defenses, except the Patriots postseason defense, of course. This past Sunday, Manning humbled the Ravens defense, scoring 24 points in the second half.

Now it's the Jaguars' turn.

"People ask us our secret," Del Rio said, referring to the Jaguars' two wins against the Colts in the last three meetings between the two teams. "There are no secrets in this league. You prepare hard and then you go compete."

And you score at least one more point than the Colts. If the Jaguars have a secret, that's it. Somehow, some way the Jaguars found a way to get one more score than the Colts did in last year's game in Indianapolis. Josh Scobee, then a rookie, booted a 53-yard field goal with less than a minute to play and the Jaguars scored a 27-24 upset win.

It wasn't as though the Jaguars stopped Manning, or even slowed him down. He threw for 368 yards and three touchdowns. They limited his time on the field by dominating time of possession, but it's no secret you have to win time of possession to beat Manning. The Patriots had already taught us that.

"Whatever it takes," Del Rio said.

It doesn't take much to motivate Peterson for this game. Peterson, the former Colt who remains sensitive to having been allowed to escape in free agency, is approaching this game with somewhat of a chip on his shoulder.

"What did I get out of that? That they didn't want to see Jacksonville in the playoffs," he said when asked about the Colts not playing their starters in last year's regular-season finale, which the Colts lost in Denver. Had the Colts won that game, the Jaguars would've made it into the playoffs and would've faced the Colts in the wild-card round.

There's no avoiding this Sunday's game.

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